Reliance buys majority stake in online pharmacy Netmeds for $83 million

The logo of Reliance Industries is pictured in a stall at the Vibrant Gujarat Global Trade Show at Gandhinagar, India

India’s Reliance Industries Ltd has bought a majority stake in online pharmacy Netmeds for 6.2 billion rupees ($83 million), facing up to in the competition for the country’s fast-expanding online drug market.

The deal will give the oil-to-telecoms conglomerate a 60% stake in Netmeds, which sells both over-the-counter medication and more than 70,000 prescriptions drugs, Reliance said here late on Tuesday.

It also follows Amazon’s move last week to start online drug sales in Bengaluru, and comes amid intensifying competition in India’s e-commerce sector, which also includes Walmart’s Flipkart and a range of smaller players.

Reliance, India’s most valuable company, has raised more than $20 billion in recent months by selling stakes in its digital arm, Jio Platforms.

Netmeds gives it a foothold in a sector that is forecast to grow to 250 billion rupees by 2022, according to consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

Some analysts say it may be a while before Netmeds can become a significant business for Reliance.

“They’ll have to really focus on building scale,” said Deepak Shenoy, founder of wealth manager Capitalmind and an investor in Reliance.

“It’s not a market that Reliance will be interested in unless it is a (100 or 200 billion-rupee) market.”

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